How to prune roses

If you want know how to prune roses, this page can help you. When roses are planted in the autumn, prune them as little as possible. All pruning is best postponed until after February. Sometimes, however, non-climbing roses will shoot up at the end of the season in pithy, worthless stalks or weak streamers, whose swaying in the high winds is likely to be injurious to the plants by disturbing the roots. Such pithy shoots should be cut out altogether and the streamers topped off.

The pruning of the hardy roses, climbers and non-climbing, should be completed by the middle of March. Tender roses may be pruned in early April; the object is to keep the covering undisturbed as long as possible, but to avoid waiting until the sap is running freely. A revision of the pruning will have to take place by May 1st anyhow, but it should be limited to what is indispensable.

Prune back recently planted roses rather vigorously, thus assisting them to get well started at the roots.

The degree of pruning each grower must decide for himself. If the largest individual flowers are sought the pruning can hardly be too severe; but for ordinary garden purposes a moderate cutting will be better.

The stronger the growth of the rose, the less it should be pruned; many such roses, if too severely cut back, will run to wood rather than bloom and some sorts will languish or die under extreme pruning. This refers primarily to the roses that bloom on shoots arising from wood of the previous year, and not to the varieties that bloom on the new wood of the year, such as the Hybrid Teas and the Teas.

In pruning, cut out all the dead wood and weakest shoots first. Where two limbs make a bad cross and are liable to chafe, remove one of them, remembering to keep the centre of the plant as clear as possible to admit the circulation of air.

Now consider what you have left and what you want: if but few roses of surpassing size, then prune a vigorous plant to three or four eyes on the shoot; if you want quantity, leave six eyes, or even more. If the effect of large masses is wanted, four or five canes may be retained three feet in length, and all very old or weak growth should be entirely removed.

This will give a large number of flowers, effective in the mass, but small, and with short, weak foot-stalks scarcely able to support the weight of the blooms and not effective as cut flowers. This sort of pruning is entirely for outside show. After the bloom is over the canes should be shortened back at least one half so that the plant may make strong wood for the next season of bloom. Plants pruned in this way require strong stakes.

If quality is desired, all weak growth should be removed and every healthy cane retained and cut back in proportion to the development of each plant. The weakest should not have more than four inches of wood left on the root, while the strongest may have eight or nine inches.

The canes should be cut off about a quarter of an inch above an outside bud, and care must be taken that the wood is not torn nor the bud bruised. The shoot growing from the uppermost bud will usually be strong, and will grow in whatever direction the bud points. Therefore the highest bud left should point toward the outside of the plant, that the head may be open and light and air admitted.

Roses pruned in this way do not need stakes. They are sufficiently strong and stocky to hold erect any weight they may be called upon to bear. They will require very little summer pruning if the blooms have been cut, as eight to twelve inches of wood are removed with each flower. Of course, the number of blooms will be much reduced, but the quality of the fine specimens obtained will amply repay the lack of abundance.

Pruning of Hybrid Teas and Teas may be profitably left until the first signs of life are discoverable, as evidenced by the bark becoming greener and the dormant buds beginning to swell. By that time any dead or dying wood can readily be detected, thus making it easier to select what should be removed and what retained.

They do not need such severe pruning as that prescribed for the Hybrid Perpetuals; twice the amount of wood may safely be left if it is promising, though these roses will bloom even if cut to the ground.

The Bourbon roses, of which very few are grown in the central part of the United States, require but little pruning. It is sufficient to cut out weak wood and to shorten slightly the main shoots.

In pruning the weak-growing varieties it will generally be found that the winter has done most of the work already, leaving but little to choose from. In this case prune to the very soil, if necessary, to get to sound wood. If anything remains at all after this apparent destruction, these same plants will be found to bear profusely before the season is over.

Rugosas, climbers, and pillar roses should be pruned as little as possible, merely removing the old wood past bearing, cutting out dead wood, and trimming back the ends of the remaining shoots slightly after training them. It may be stated here that in training all climbers you must avoid straight-up training, or the sap will all tend to the top, denuding the lower part of the plant. First bend the shoot in one direction or another, then let it tend upward if necessary.

If a climber has developed more shoots than it appears able to support, the weakest may be removed, but one must remember that in most cases the bloom of any one year is best on the last year's shoots.

Autumn pruning

Before the high winds of November begin the bushy tops of all canes in the dwarf-growing varieties should be removed unless they are securely tied to stakes. This is to prevent the plants from being whipped by the wind and the tender feeding roots from being broken. It is better to leave the canes about two feet in length.

The plant should not be cut back to the point suggested for spring pruning, for a few hot days will force out the uppermost eyes, which later will be destroyed in the winter. Enough wood should be left to insure the safety of the eves that are retained for the next season's flowers.

Rules for pruning various classes

  1. Hybrid Tea and Tea roses, the so-called "everblooming" roses, bloom on growth of the same year, even though it may arise from the bud at the ground. The plants are not of the strong growth habit of the Hybrid Perpetuals, and are best as low bushes. When first planted they are preferably pruned sharply, to two or three buds above the ground.
    After being established, spring pruning had better be in accordance with the vigour and the condition of the particular variety. Weak growers, as are some of the choicest sorts, need more severe pruning and thinning out than the strong growers.
    All alike need to be considered from the standpoints of shapeliness and the non-interference of the twigs. Because all of these roses bloom on shoots of the current year, and the production of such shoots is stimulated by judicious pruning, all can well be considerably cut back each spring, leaving from five to eight buds on the retained shoots, and always pruning to a bud which will start in the desired direction.
    These "everblooming" roses are so only as they are kept growing, and the prompt cutting of the blooms, with liberal stems, is a continuous pruning necessary to recurrent blooming.
  2. Polyantha roses are more nearly everblooming than any other class. They require but little pruning aside from the renewal needed by all roses in cutting out the older twigs and the shaping accomplished by removing interfering branches. They are naturally compact and bushy.
  3. Hybrid Perpetual roses need to be pruned toward obtaining and retaining a bushy form rather than the leggy form natural to the class. When first planted they need the same severe shortening to three or four buds, with the removal of redundant or ill-placed canes recommended for Hybrid Teas, and they seldom bloom the first year. The flowers are produced on shoots that arise from old wood, wherefore the spring pruning after they are established should be done accordingly. The illustrations on preceding pages show the treatment.
    There are, however, two ideals for pruning the Hybrid Perpetual roses. For general garden adornment, leave more canes, and leave them longer than if the design is to fewer and finer flowers—what the English call "exhibition" blooms. The "Gen. Jack" shown above would have but three canes left for the latter result.
    After the main spring pruning the further treatment should be to cut flowers with long stems, and generally to head back moderately after the great June bloom burst, fertilizing at the same time, to retain vigour and induce growth looking toward the production of some autumnal blooms. Frau Karl Druschki, for example, may thus be induced to give some superb fall flowers.
    The weaker growers in this class, as in others, need the more severe pruning and thinning, and in all sorts renewal pruning should be constantly followed, to keep the plants vigorous and shapely.
  4. The Hardy Climbing roses, both of Multi-flora and Wichuraiana parentage, bloom on shoots which arise from wood of previous years, wherefore spring pruning should do no more than remove injured or interfering canes, with a slight shortening and shaping treatment. The main pruning for these splendid roses should follow the bloom period. In July and August the older shoots ought to be cut out at the base of the plant. Some growers remove all the wood that has flowered, while others cut away a judicious selection of the older canes. New canes arise from the roots which form the flowering wood for next year, and it is part of a good pruning method to remove such of these as are deemed undesirable or are not well placed.
  5. Rugosa roses and their hybrids require but little pruning save the removal of old and undesirable canes and a slight shortening in. It is practicable when the bushes become involved or unkempt to shear them off at the ground completely. The new growth renews the bush. Certain hybrids of extreme vigour, as Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, can be caused to flower more abundantly by arching and tying down the long shoots, or by tying to a wooden or metal frame. Blooming shoots arise from many more buds when the canes are not upright.
  6. Brier roses and the Species roses, as used in the shrubbery and along driveways and parks, need but little pruning. The Austrian Copper type—Harison's Yellow and Persian Yellow—resent pruning, and will not bloom if cut back. The removal of dead, interfering, and redundant canes is all that ought to be done, and they will inevitably become "leggy" in consequence.
    The Hugonis rose needs only gradual renewal by removal of the old canes, and the same is true of the Lord Penzance Briers, and of the native roses of any country that form so fine an adjunct in the shrub border. Most of them will endure shearing to the ground for complete rejuvenation at intervals of several years. As many of these roses provide added beauty through their seed-pods or "hips," it is obvious that no pruning should occur until early spring.

Pruning in general rests upon a reasonable knowledge of the bloom and the growth habits of the subject, and upon the desired end. Hard-and-fast rules are possible, but can represent only one ideal.

The major part of the roses we grow—the Hybrid Teas, the Hybrid Perpetuals, and the Hardy Climbers—are in our gardens diverted completely from their natural tendencies to a specialized use and form, just as a grape-vine is so diverted to man's informed ideals.

It is only requisite for rose pruning, therefore, to know first whether the rose to be pruned blooms on wood of the current year, as do the Hybrid Teas, or on shoots arising from older wood; and second, what form is preferred. A vigorous bush may be made nearly a climber and a climber can be adapted both to the bush and the admirable "pillar" form—it is what one wants that governs!

A word may not be amiss as to pruning tools. The essential is a pair of dependable pruning shears, of any pattern comfortable to the hand, and the blades of which can be kept easily in condition to make sharp and clean cuts. A hooked pruning-knife, kept keen, is a desirable addition, as also is for occasional use a short curved pruning saw.

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